Laing Art Gallery,New Bridge St, Newcastle upon Tyne
Running until 14 January 2018
We do alright with blockbuster shows in Newcastle, largely thanks to the Laing Art Gallery. Paul Nash is on tour straight from Tate Britain, and continues a run of powerful shows bringing some of the biggest names in twentieth century art to the North.
The exhibition brings together several of Nash’s powerful paintings made during the First World War. Nash was on the front lines during the Battle of Passchendaele, and the sights he saw deeply traumatised him. ‘I am no longer an artist interested and curious,’ he wrote to his wife in November 1917, ‘I am a messenger who will bring back word from men fighting to those who want the war to last forever.’
Nash was an official war artist and was commissioned to paint a memorial to those who fought and died in the fighting. This painting, ‘The Menin Road’, is monumental in scale and scope, depicting one of the most dangerous spots on the Western Front. Like other paintings Nash produced during the war, the canvas appears fractured, with stark searchlights, terrifying shadows and cracked earth dividing the space like shattered glass. The severe angles dwarf the fleeing figures that dare to move across the nightmarish landscape.
Nash continued to paint after he returned home in 1918, although memories of the war continued to plague him, influencing the landscapes and costal scenes he produced around the South of England. Along with contemporaries like Graham Sutherland, Nash explored developments in European painting throughout the 1930s, particularly the work of Picasso and the Surrealists. His paintings captured what he described as the ‘spirit of place’, but became filled growing sense of unease prompted by the events leading up to the Second World War.
Nash became a key figure in British surrealism, merging the mystical and dreamlike with the traditions of landscape painting. Also on show are a collection of the surreal photographs and objects Nash assembled as sources of inspiration. These objects were of great importance to Nash, and when he died, an Egyptian stone carving of a hawk (included in the painting ‘Landscape from a Dream’) was placed on his grave.
Paul Nash continues until January 14, 2018. The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive programme of talks and activities, with something for all ages. Full details are available on the Laing Art Gallery website here